On the screen, pixels bloom into a pink, puffy cloud. Below the image, another one loads of a black and white cityscape encased in a girl’s profile. It’s like urban flowers inside a recognizable vase.
“So it’s just pictures?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Mandy replies. “Or I think you can post, like, text posts and audio too. I’m only following like a few blogs so far, but it’s really cool.”
Mandy clicks on a link under Recommended Blogs in what she describes as a sidebar.
The page loads in stripes, inching into an explosion of cosmos like purple stains dappled with insistent white dots—heaps of stars. On the top of the page, tall block letters spell out in the clean white that only a screen or snowstorm can produce: REALM OF WANDERLUST. The cavernous bowl of a white stone ceiling, carved into with precision. Three-dimensional bodies of nude men and women, curling vines and muscular horses snarling with their ears flattened back. I inhale sharply. The caption: Cathedral in Madrid, Spain. Below: the pinkest sky I’ve ever seen, with tangerine orange dying its belly, a jagged hazy skyline and thousands of bright spots like gleaming pearls in a vast soda-colored ocean. Sleek silver buildings rise from the succulent sunset and its dim smoggy kingdom, almost aquatic in the clarity of their surfaces. Captioned Los Angeles. Beside me, Mandy’s eyes are wide as the scenes swim in their depths. We scroll down hungrily. The steep slope of a mountain against a crisp pale blue sky, the way that the sky used to look to me on blustery days in Winnie the Pooh books or on the first day of kindergarten when everything felt new and smelled like soggy leaves and the biting chemical scent of the inside of a new backpack. “Switzerland.”
Emerald green lawns and damp trunks of skeletal trees at Central Park in autumn time. The slope of an expertly embellished cup of coffee on a Portland cafe table. A definition of “wanderlust” typewritten on worn off-white paper. Railroad tracks streaked with golden sunbeams darting like a sleek arrow into the heart of nestling twin purple peaks. The metal looks warm, the rotting wood inviting. Pale green branches protruding from either side of the track are mottled in yellow sun.
“I think I hear my mom,” Mandy whispers, shutting the laptop abruptly. We worm into our sleeping bags, silent, as a door squeaks and a light clicks off in the world of upstairs.
It’s Mandy’s fourteenth birthday, the sleepover we’ve had for the past four years. Our sleeping bags on navy and evergreen airmattresses on the oatmeal-colored carpet in the basement. Upstairs, her mother’s Martha Stewart Living holiday cookies are resting in the cakestand by the windowsill, their carefully piped sage green icing hardening overnight. Her parents are in their bedroom with their bodies thrust as far from each other on the bed as possible. I turned fourteen three months ago, and I thought that something would change but nothing did. I don’t tell Mandy though.
I wake up to rustling sheets and otherwise silence. The room is filled with the type of black that swallows up your orientation; the only compass is a dim gold from the porchlamp, seeping in through the high-up window. I roll over onto my back. The bright images of far-off places keep flashing in front of me, coming in screen-like squares of city or lush reserve or museum. An open road bordered with rich red desert, chunky stones and leathery green cactuses nine feet tall. The streets outside are dead and quiet. Every hardly-perceptible hoot of a distant owl is within earshot. I sigh into the darkness.
“Samantha?” Mandy’s voice is a small and familiar call.
“I can’t sleep. I’m, like, having a hard time getting comfortable.”
“Me too,” I say, though I realize it’s only a little true.
“Wanna go for a walk?” she asks.
I’ve slept over at Mandy’s a thousand times, but it’s the first time we’ve ever snuck out. The door creaks and we’re on the front porch, basking in the porch light with a flock of moths. We start walking in our pajamas and socks. I shiver as I adjust to the chilly air.
The silence between us feels like sinking into an old and loved couch. The street is slick with condensation, or maybe it rained sometime in the night. The windows are all shut, dark and flat inside. When I was little, I spent late nights huddled up against the cold window of my room with my alarm clock radio on my knee at nearly imperceptible volume, fuzzy alternative station blaring quietly, vocals tinny. I always hoped I’d find another light in the window shining yellow into the gloom, maybe flickers of Morse code to let me know I wasn’t alone, the only one in this town awake. Three years ago, boys stalked down a street near here like hyenas, throwing rocks at windows. Abigail at school told me about their laughter, a sound like quicksilver. I think of them, sleeping in matching hard white beds at the correctional facility one hundred miles away. Down the road the wild turkeys strut soundlessly, fat pear-like shapes bobbing. We imitate them, suppressing our laughter, the cold soaking into my thin blue socks.
“I wanna get out of here.” It’s the first time I’ve thought it, but it feels right in my mouth.